Famous poet and member of the Black Art Movement Nikki Giovanni visited campus last Thursday to give a poetry reading.
Before entertaining the audience in packed Potter Hall, Giovanni sat down with student journalists for an exclusive interview. No matter the topic of the question, Giovanni always managed to maintain a no-nonsense attitude that made her a celebrated activist in the African-American community.
Giovanni grew up in Tennessee and Cincinnati. As a history major in University, she has always incorporated not only her own experiences in her writings but others as well.
“I was a history major and I’m a big reader, and I’m always reminding my students that you have to read to write. It’s much more important to read everyday than write everyday. And I think experience is overblown, frankly speaking. You don’t experience everything–some things to sympathize with, some you emphasize with, some things you understand and some you put together. I’m a big fan of space. And you guys in Missouri have Cronkite, who pushed for space, he was a fan of NASA. Going to space is like going through middle passage, and we have to find out what they experienced and how they came out sane. I don’t have an experience of middle passage or space, but I have sense,” Giovanni said.
But history is not the only source for inspiration. Giovannis blames her status as the “baby” in the family for her passion for storytelling.
“I’ve always liked storytelling. I’m a Southerner and I’m a Tennessean. I’m a writer and a storyteller. And as the baby in the family that is what you do. My older sister was very pretty and Gary could play the piano, and I couldn’t do any of those things, but I could read and I enjoyed learning things–not that Gary didn’t! So as a baby you kinda keep to yourself and I watched my family and the world around me, I watched the country in which I lived, I watched the planet upon which I lived and I watched the stars because I’m a big fan of the heavens and of NASA. So if you watch, what are you gonna do? You’re gonna tell stories about it,” she said.
Telling stories is a way to continue a legacy–and for her own legacy, Giovanni has very specific things in mind.
“I have a granddaughter now so what I would be looking at is what I’m passing on to her? Part of what I’m passing along is how to play bid whist. She has to know how to play bid whist because all Black women play bid whist and I’m good and I want to make sure she’s good. And she has to know how to fry chicken because we invented fried chicken. I hate Kentucky Fried Chicken. I would starve to death sitting here. I would never eat in life before I would eat Kentucky Fried Chicken because there’s not a white man on earth that knows diddly squat about fried chicken other than eating the fried chicken that Black women created,” Giovanni said.
Giovanni lived through segregation herself and knows the Civil Rights Movement herself. After fighting for equal rights, the rhetoric of the likes of Donald Trump raise concern, she said.
“Nothing goes back. Donald Trump is a fool – and I hate fool men – and a racist and stupid. But we can’t go back to Donald Trump, we are going forward to Donald Trump. Hitler would be going back, but we’re not going back to Hitler. Although both (motions to her hair)–isn’t it funny that all those racists have strange hair cuts? But I don’t understand it. I don’t understand why white Americans are afraid of anything. White Americans run the world. Especially white American men. I don’t see why they need to bring this hatred in, other than that they want to be billionaires. But I think it will be stopped. My bet is that we’ll impeach that boy. He has to go,” Giovanni said.
Giovanni is without a doubt a strong personality and has one thing that makes her different from others–the way she thinks.
“Oh, I could never write a novel. I look at novels by Toni Morrison, and they’re so brilliant I’m glad I didn’t get involved in that. I think that poetry and I got together simply because I put strange things together. As we’re saying here I sad ‘Middle passage is like spake’, no one else says something like that. Another thing I say – and I pick on the guys – I think the penis will go extinct, because it’s a misused organ. All misused organs eventually go extinct. So one morning they’ll lie in bed and it’s just gone (laughs). Nobody thinks like that.”